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The King's Curse by Philippa Gregory
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The King's Curse

by Philippa Gregory

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“The King’s Curse” is set in England from 1499-1541, told from the viewpoint of Lady Margaret Pole, niece of Edward IV and of Richard III.

I believe this sixth instalment from the Cousins’ War is also the last. I do prefer this one to “The White Queen”, “The Red Queen”, and “The White Princess” though the narrative voice in this novel strikes me as the blandest of the series.

As other readers have commented, there are historical inaccuracies that the author is apparently aware of but has decided to tweak certain events to suit the story. As this is a work of fiction I guess there’s no harm in this, though certain changes do seem pointless, such as stating that Richard III named Edward the Earl of Warwick as his heir when in reality he nominated John de la Pole Earl of Lincoln.

In fact the de la Pole brothers are hardly mentioned. Richard – aka “The White Rose” – is omitted altogether. Perhaps the author felt this was one aspect too many, considering all the other events taking place in this long narrative.

Still, Richard de la Pole’s activities may have livened things up, plus it would’ve done the book no harm to have some of the more trivial and repetitive elements omitted.

I feel that if an author wants to make several alterations to true historical events then why not write an actual historical fantasy? Or an alternative history? Just a thought.

Repetition is something apparent throughout this series. Amongst other things, this book grabs hold of the belief that the Tudors have been cursed by former queens Elizabeth Woodville and her daughter Elizabeth of York, and the reader is reminded of this a little too often.

The form of repetition that irritates me the most, which is evident in all six books, is the constant need to refer to characters by their full names and titles. In some instances the reader is reminded again and again of the relationship of certain characters, as is noted in the example below:

“In the stable yard my companions mount their horses: my two granddaughters, Jane’s girls, Katherine and Winifred.”

At this stage I know who Margaret’s two companions are. I don’t need reminding that they’re her granddaughters. I know they’re Jane’s girls. I don’t need their names specifying again. I certainly don’t need it pointing out that there are two of them.

So in one sentence the author is informing the reader of Margret’s companions in four different ways when she could have said either:

1) “In the stable yard my companions mount their horses.”

2) “In the stable yard my granddaughters mount their horses.”

3) “In the stable yard Jane’s girls mount their horses.”

4) “In the stable yard Katherine and Winifred mount their horses.”

The above is one of several examples of not only using excess words but also of superfluous punctuation. Other reviews I’ve read of this series have picked up on the author’s overuse of commas. This is true. She tends to use so many of them – sometimes aided and abetted by semicolons or colons – that it becomes a distraction. This can be avoided by constructing stronger and more concise sentences.

It’s really only my interest in the Wars of the Roses that’s made me read the whole series. Ms Gregory is a good storyteller who’s capable of setting the scene and bringing characters alive. She’s especially good at creating child characters.

But what’s put me off reading more of her books is her lack of good English style, using numerous words when a few will suffice, needless repetition, sometimes taking too much liberty with historical events, pointless dialogue attribution in which she states who’s speaking when it’s obvious who it is, and in some instances having a tendency of “telling” rather than “showing”. ( )
  PhilSyphe | Oct 17, 2014 |
In The King’s Curse, Ms. Gregory makes it extremely obvious that she is no fan of the Tudor family. In her ongoing version of the Cousins’ War, there is a good side and a bad side, and the Tudor family is most definitely the bad side. Her sympathy for the remaining Plantegenets, especially Margaret Pole, around whom the entire novel revolves, is not only obvious but also mentioned repeatedly. History is never as unequivocally black and white as Ms. Gregory makes it appear, which makes her portrayal of Henry VIII’s reign disturbing in its bias.

Then again, does anyone expect otherwise from a Ms. Gregory novel? She may pick fascinating subjects, but her storytelling does not bring history alive so much as it beats it to death with a blunt object. She has a way of driving home her point that is anything but subtle. Readers know they can skim the story or even skip entire sections without missing anything because she repeats herself so often.

She also tends to overdo the sympathy. Margaret Pole is on of the highest-born Plantagnents remaining in England. Having seen her brother executed as a threat to the Crown under Henry VII, she never forgets how perilous her situation is in the Tudor realm. Yet, Margaret is anything but humble and quiet. She is arrogant and smug. She prides herself on her lineage and detests anything that lowers her image in the eyes of the people. She may hate the king, and in many ways she does for what his family has done to hers and what he does to his wife and daughter, but she cannot stand to be away from court and outside of the king’s sphere of influence. She is about as unsympathetic as it gets given her propensity to worry over her material goods and her lineage more than anything else.

While Ms. Gregory’s novels always feature strong women who managed to dictate the terms in which they lived in spite of society being male-dominated, one gets the impression that there was not as much to Margaret Pole’s story as there was with some of her other characters. Yes, she was present at several key moments in history and rose up to become one of the wealthiest people, let alone women, in all of England. However, she does not do much other than dictate her sons’ actions. Much of the action occurs offstage because her sons are the ones doing all of the work. She boasts often of her ability to rule her lands, but even there, as a lady and owner of multiple estates, she is not doing any of the work but ordering others. Her lack of direct presence in most of the key proceedings makes for a rather dull story. It is difficult to feel her fear and confusion in this modern era, especially among readers for whom the idea of a monarchial rule is anathema to the society in which s/he was raised. In addition, since one sees little of the action directly but only as one of her sons is telling her what occurred, it is even more difficult to get caught up in her plight. Adding to the destructive mix is Margaret’s refusal to take action against the king. Much of the novel is her railing against Henry’s proclamations and rulings but doing nothing else. She is one of the first ones to capitulate and swear her allegiance over and over again. This lack of a backbone is unusual in a Gregory heroine and bothersome because in every other aspect of her life she is quite formidable.

Upon finishing The King’s Curse, one will not help but wonder if Ms. Gregory is finally ready to put the entire Plantagenent and Tudor line to rest. The stories have come full circle now as she ends much as she began, with Henry VIII and his quest for a male heir. In fact, most of The King’s Curse feels much like a rehashing of her earlier novels simply told from someone else’s point of view. Given how poorly written the story is and how unsympathetic Margaret Pole is throughout most of the novel, readers will not just wonder but hope that Ms. Gregory moves on to some other period in history. It is long past time to do so.
  jmchshannon | Oct 14, 2014 |
I'm not sure why I find all of these historical novels that Philippa Gregory writes interesting. They are filled with multiple Marys, Margarets, C(K)atherines, Elizabeths, Henrys and Edwards, so much so that you can't keep them straight. These stories are all pretty much the same - royal intrigue, plots against the ruling head, distraught queens trying to provide male heirs, imprisonment in the Tower, beheadings, etc. etc. I would think that the author would get bored doing the research and writing them. But perhaps not, since I and plenty of others keep reading them. Still, it might be nice to see Ms. Gregory apply her considerable talents to something totally different. ( )
  flourgirl49 | Oct 9, 2014 |
Named as governess over King Arthur, Margaret Pole is heartbroken when he dies shortly after his marriage to Katherine of Aragon. When Katherine asks her to deny that her marriage was consummated, Margaret Pole is forced to choose alliances. Once Katherine has taken the throne, she is richly rewarded, and becomes her friend and trusted adviser. However, her fortunes wane as Katherine is unable to bear a living male heir.

This is yet another masterpiece from Philippa Gregory. It was hard to put down and I found myself reading long into the night. The ups and downs of Margaret Pole's life were fascinating. I also thought the relationships between her and her children were intriguing and interesting to read. Overall, a home run! ( )
  JanaRose1 | Sep 12, 2014 |
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The riveting story of Margaret Pole, daughter of George, Duke of Clarence, and was one of the few surviving members of the Plantagenet dynasty after the Wars of the Roses. Plantagenet, once carried proudly by Margaret like a crown upon her head, is now, at the end of the 15th century, the most dangerous name in England.… (more)

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